Editorial: Afghanistan service serves our needs too

GREER BERRY
Last updated 12:00 20/02/2013

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OPINION: It's a cheap shot to label the announcement that some military roles will remain in Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal as a complete "u-turn" by Government.

A change to what was discussed, yes, but hardly a complete reversal on what was recently decided.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said on Monday that 27 military personnel, based mainly in Kabul, would remain for at least another year.

Eight would work with the UK-led Afghan National Army Officer Training Academy.

Twelve would be posted to ISAF Special Operations Forces headquarters, employed mainly in intelligence and planning.

Three would be based at ISAF headquarters and three in a support role as part of New Zealand's "National Support Element".

One officer would be with the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan.

These "behind the wire" positions are hardly comparable to the 21 rotations of more than 3000 roles, many of which involved performing dangerous patrols and tasks.

With the Government now agreeing to keep this small group on in a support role, it can and should instead be seen as a positive and logical step.

New recruits joining our Defence Force are doing so knowing that opportunities for deployment overseas - normally a huge driver in recruitment - are few and far between nowadays.

Opportunities to put their training into action where needed are diminishing as operations such as those in in East Timor and the Solomon Islands wrap up.

Maintaining a link to a country that we have committed so much of our time, effort, money and lives to makes sense - rather than turning on our heels without a second thought.

With the Defence Force battling a growing attrition rate and low morale, ensuring current staff are satisfied in their jobs is crucial - and keeping opportunities to gain new skills and experience through deployments is part of that.

Prime Minister John Key has not committed to another rotation of our soldiers to replace the ones due back in the coming months; that would have been a u-turn.

Instead he has agreed to an almost token gesture of support for a campaign that New Zealand will always be intrinsically linked with.

ONE MORE THING

There are bound to be mixed responses to the announcement that plain packaging on cigarettes will hit our shelves by next year.

It will be interesting to see the legal challenges, and even more interesting to see if the plain packaging has any effect on the smoking rate in New Zealand, and whether the move will extinguish the "glamour" of smoking at all.

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- Manawatu Standard

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